Sunday, June 13, 2010

In Search of June

So here I sit, watching Ghana beat Serbia in the World Cup, trying mightily to ignore the scrappy-looking sky lurking outside my window. Trying to forget the entire weekend for that matter. Turning 52 should be a noisy celebration (!) but the soggy, drippy sky outside my window came close to matching my (somber) moods. Two lousy Saturdays in a row? What did we do to deserve this?

We spend the better part of winter and spring day-dreaming about what we're going to do during a (fleeting) Minnesota summer, plotting, scheming, imagining hot sun and refreshing surf, fishing, wave runners, wake boarding, volleyball on the beach, a million (and one) things we hope to do to squeeze the most out of a Minnesota Summer. Not one of the weather-daydreams included me, face pressed up against a rain-splattered window, making excuses about why it was raining on another Saturday in June. Ugh.

Massive Coffee Spill. Sure, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is hardly a laughing matter, but sometimes satire sums up the state of affairs better than any editorial or rant. This clip has been downloaded a few million times since last Friday, and it's worth watching. It may brighten up an otherwise gloomy Monday. Rated R for foul language (at the end of the video).

Holding Pattern. Normally weather patterns move from west to east at 15-30 mph. But a stalled front has prolonged and sustained rains across the Midwest in recent days: near 90 in Kansas City, readings in the 50s over Duluth. That's quite a "baroclinic zone", a sharp north-south contrast in temperature, which set the stage for Saturday's steady rain. The front does an abrupt U-Turn today, sparking more steady rain from this afternoon into much of Tuesday.

Yes, we had rain in the forecast - the models were insistent that most of the rain would hold off until Saturday night, but they totally underestimated the strength of an "upper air disturbance", a wrinkle of cold air aloft, which rippled east along a stationary frontal boundary, kicking up an expansive smear of light/moderate rain. Again, this is the kind of feature you're expect to see in early May or late September, not a week or so before the summer solstice. The reason? The main frontal boundary separating cool, Canadian air to the north from steamy, tropical air to the south, has been hovering DIRECTLY ABOVE MINNESOTA. This boundary should be just north/west of Winnipeg by mid June - it's a good 300-500 miles farther south than normal for this time of year. This sharp north-south contrast it's what's behind these (highly unusual) spells of steadier rain. The core of the jet stream is howling directly over our heads, meaning rapid weather changes, and temperatures consistently 10-20 degrees cooler than usual.

So Close... Look how close the record warmth is - all those yellow dots are record (warm) low temperatures, the red dots record highs, the green dots 24 hour rainfall records. The blue icons: record cool readings from central Minnesota into much of the west. Check it out for yourself at, a division of WeatherNation. Yes, right now the USA is a nation of crazy extremes.

The extremes are amazing: the southern 2/3rd's of America is sweltering through extreme heat and humidity, records are falling left and right, meanwhile, here in Minnesota we just can't quite shake spring and finally transition into a true, summerlike regime, with sustained southerly winds and late-day, instability T-storms. Very odd. I can't point a finger at El Nino or La Nina, no external forcings from the Pacific Ocean that can take the blame for this weather relapse. Chalk this up to (strange) weather variability - at some point the jet stream WILL lift north of Minnesota, we WILL break out into murky, hazy, dog-day weather with a spell of 80s and 90s. It just so happens we're stuck in a cycle that seems to favor rain on Saturdays, at least the last 3 Saturdays. No question we're all more aware of rain that falls on a weekend, more "weather sensitive."

Hey, I want sunshine as much as the next guy - to the point where I have to be very careful not to let my sunshine-craving bias the forecast. Sailing into a Saturday you start to look for excuses why you should predict sunshine, because you know that's what people want to hear. It's a little like a doctor forced to deliver an unpleasant diagnosis. "I'm sorry sir - your ears need to be lowered and your nose has to come off." Great. It pays to be more pessimistic going into a summer weekend - if the weather turns out better than advertised, no worries. A gift from on high. But woe is me if the weather turns out worse than anticipated. People don't want to hear excuses or alibis - most don't care about the meteorological reasons why the "PM Showers" turned into a soaking rain. Blah. Blah. Blah.

At least we salvaged a dry Sunday, cool, but fairly comfortable (hey, no worries about sunburn!) the sun did break through up north by late afternoon/evening, but those thick clouds kept temperatures 10-15 degrees cooler than they would have been otherwise. I had my first encounter with Target Field, a friend invited us to see the Twins take on the Braves. Let's not talk about the game itself (where was our pitching?) but the stadium itself is nothing short of awe-inspiring. I was prouder than ever to be a Minnesotan - the game is almost secondary with all the food/drink distractions, the view of downtown Minneapolis, the people-watching. Forgive me for editorializing, but whatever you think of professional baseball, Target Field is a first-rate example of what makes this state extraordinary. My already-lofty expectations were definitely exceeded.

It got to the point where the crowd actually cheered when skies brightened for a brief, fleeting moment. Kind of embarrassing, that we have to cheer on the sun, but that's the kind of weekend we had. I was just happy the rain (and storms) stayed south, over Iowa. Usually a northwesterly breeze, coupled with rising barometric pressure triggers a gradual clearing trend. But not last weekend, not with that pesky frontal boundary lurking overhead. Today that foul front will do a U-turn and approach from the south, yet another period of rain is likely from this afternoon through much of Tuesday, maybe another .25 to .50" of rain.

The sun returns by Wednesday (hallelujah!) and it WILL start to feel like summer again the latter half of this week, highs topping 80, with humidity levels that will leave you plotting and scheming when you can go jump in a lake (something I was encouraged to do many times this past weekend). An approaching frontal boundary sparks more scattered T-storms Thursday (best chance central and northern MN), the models temporarily dry us out Friday, before nudging another front near the Iowa-Minnesota border on Saturday. Could a few stray T-storms pop up on Saturday, especially over far southern Minnesota, close to this frontal scuffle? Yes. But looking (unemotionally) at the latest data I don't see the same (big) temperature variation capable of whipping up another period of steady rain next weekend. Skies should be party sunny both days, highs ranging from upper 70s to low 80s, fairly close to "average" for mid June, precipitation more convective (showery), rather than the steady, stratiform rains we've been stuck with the past 3 Saturdays.

Hey, we're due for a break. It's just the law of averages. At some point this crappy weather pattern will break, the core of the jet stream will finally surge north of Minnesota, and we'll all be whining about the heat and humidity. It's inevitable. The long-range GFS model is indeed hinting at a couple of days near 90 the last week of June. Until then: relatively smooth sailing, comfortable temperatures, no severe weather outbreaks (we're still tornado-free in Minnesota, officially, as of June 14, which is highly unusual). The best chance of rain: later today and Tuesday.

Hang in there - better days ahead, weatherwise. Yes, here in Minnesota we EARN our summers.

Downpours + Steep Hills + Sleeping Campers = Horror. Here is a good summary of the weather conditions leading up the tragic flash flooding in Arkansas that left at least 17 dead. Entire families sleeping next to a normally tranquil creek were swept downstream by a sudden surge of water, the flash-flood equivalent of a tsunami raging down the river valley, a rise of nearly 20 feet in less than a minute, producing a battering-ram of trees, cars, pieces of buildings and other debris all surging down-river at 30-40 mph. It must have been unbelievable, made worse by the fact that there was no power. What can you take away from the disaster? Think twice about camping in an area with no wireless coverage (apparently there was no cell coverage in that rural region of Arkansas - people couldn't get warnings on their cell phones, no NOAA Weather Radio signals either, apparently). I realize you go camping to get away, to unplug and disconnect, but during summer flood season you are taking a risk, especially if your camp site is next to a creek or river. At the very least use common sense and move away from a river if thunderstorms are flashing away nearby.

* Entire families were wiped out by the flood, more on the tragedy here.

Storm Chasing (continued). Check out some amazing shelf clouds, wall clouds and other various, assorted (crazy/evil-looking) clouds from Kansas, courtesy of YouTube.

* Shelf Clouds. What I want to know is - when do these people actually WORK? I'd like to go storm-chasing all day too. Where can I sign up? Yeah, I'm jealous, especially after seeing this video clip.

South Dakota Flooding. Minnesota has been an oasis of calm, compared to what's been happening all around us, tornadoes skipping across Iowa, Wisconsin and Illinois, weekend floods across S. Dakota. Yes, Saturday was lousy, but at least we're not picking up the pieces after a severe weather outbreak.

Solar Trouble? Things are heating up on the sun - a rash of new sunspots and solar flares. The latest from is here.

* A Different Kind of Outdoors Experience. My friend and colleague Paul Austin from Conservation MN has some great observations about the great out of doors - check out his recent columns here.

Growing Apprehension. Residents of Florida are understandably concerned about what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico, near $60 billion in tourism depends on the perception that Florida's beaches are clean, welcoming, oil-free. Meanwhile Louisiana takes in roughly $65 billion/year in oil revenue - Floridians are increasingly pointing a finger of blame at their neighbors on the Gulf, wondering why they should be made to pay for a disaster hundreds of miles to their west. No, life isn't fair - the story in the N.Y. Times is here.

Will Climate Change Trigger WW4? Yes, this is a depressing story, I have no idea if this will ever come to pass, but a number of people far smarter than me are concerned that climate change will be a destabilizing force in the years and decades to come, more people forced to migrate to find clean water and land suitable for growing crops - nearly half the world's population lives along the coast, vulnerable to even small rises in sea levels. A worst-case scenario? Possibly. I sure hope so... I'm still worried about WW3.

* Pentagon Calls Climate Change a Destabilizing Geopolitical Force. The story is here.

* Climate Change a Top Threat to U.S. Security, says New Head of U.S. Intelligence. The story from Discovery News.

* Global Warming: Man or Myth. Those keeping an open mind on the matter may want to check out this site.

Paul's Conservation MN Outlook for the Twin Cities and all of Minnesota

Today: Cloud and unseasonably cool with rain likely. Winds: NE 10-15. High: 66

Monday night: More rain and drizzle, damp. Low: 59

Tuesday: Lingering clouds and showers. High: 69

Wednesday: Much better. Partly sunny, June-like again. High: near 80

Thursday: Some sun, sticky with a chance of a few T-storms. High: 83

Friday: Plenty of sun, pleasant. High: 82

Saturday: Partly sunny, few T-storms possible. High: 81

Sunday: Intervals of sun, a drier day statewide. High: 83

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